Liberia: LIPRIDE, Partners Launch IBBSS Report ….To Determine HIV Prevalence Among Key, Vulnerable Populations

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By: Necus M. Andrews

A rights group, Liberia Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity  Diversity and Equality (LIPRIDE) in Partnership with Actionaid-Liberia, National AIDS Control Program (NACP) and partners has launched the 2018/2019 Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey (IBBSS 2018) report, with support from FORUMSYD.

The survey was conducted to determine the prevalence and distribution of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis among members of the key and vulnerable populations in Liberia.

The launch of the 2018/2021 report marks the 2nd IBBSS report in Liberia, with the 1st being in 2013.

Presenting the report findings Friday, September 10, 2021 in Monrovia, the Deputy Program Manager for Monitoring and Evaluation at the National AIDS Control Program, Janjay M. Jones told the gathering that some of the key reasons for the conduct of the IBBSS was to determine the level of knowledge, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes about HIV, syphilis and hepatitis, as well determining key HIV risk especially in regarding HIV status and mobility in Liberia.

Mr. Jones said the IBBSS report, an  observational cross-sectional study used mixed methods sampling methodology, targeting female sex workers, Men who have sex with men, transgender, injecting drug users, prison inmates, long distance transport workers, mobile traders, uniform service personnel, and gold and diamond miners.

According to Mr. Jones, the survey was conducted in 10 of Liberia’s 15 counties, including Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Gbarpolu, Sinoe and River Gee.

Mr. Jones said the report revealed that HIV prevalence had increased significantly from 2013 in almost all of the population groups, with Men who have sex with men accounting for 37.9% HIV prevalence which is the highest, followed by transgender women with 27.6%, Uniformed service personnel, 17.6%, sex workers (FSW), 16.7%, Transport workers, 9.6%, people who inject drugs (PWID), 14.4%, Inmates, 5.5%, Mobile traders, 3.8% and miners, 3.0%.

“The survey discovered that hepatitis B was much more prevalent than syphilis and hepatitis C. Among the key populations it was quite high among all the targeted groups. MSM 34%, transgender women 21.9, FSW 20.1% and PWID 19.2. Among the vulnerable populations it was high ranging from uniformed service personnel with the highest at 25.0%, closely followed by transport workers, inmates, and miners at 21%, and the lowest among mobile traders at 13.1%,” Mr. Jones said.

To mitigate issues discovered, Mr. Jones quotes the survey recommendation as calling on stakeholders in Liberia to design targeted HIV programs to increase knowledge and skills to reduce high risk behavior for transmitting and acquiring HIV infection among key and vulnerable populations.

“The design of these programs and interventions should be users friendly and allow for multiple entry points to facilities access to HIV related information, prevention and treatment services,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Jones thanked Actionaid-Liberia and LIPRIDE through the FORUMSYD project for supporting the launch of the report which had long delayed due to lack of funding.

Launching the report, the Commissioner for Program and Policy at the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Lewis Wright said the IBBSS shows that we have issues that require stakeholders working together to address at the level of their various organizations.

He said, “Unless we come together to deal with the situation that the report presents, the goal of ending AIDS would be undermined. If we as a country are to celebrate the end of AIDS, we must discourage stigma and discrimination, and embrace diversity and tolerance in all sectors of the country. This needs collectiveness.”

Mr. Wright told partners at the launch that “eliminating stigma and discrimination against Persons living with HIV (PLHIV), Key Populations (KPs) and vulnerable groups will need a deliberate commitment in putting these groups of people at the center of testing, treatment, viral load suppression and ensuring access to health care services”.

“The IBBSS report is a hard reality that we must face with inclusiveness and tolerance to ensure that no one is left behind in responding. It is a wake-up call for us to do things differently and better in many aspects, because there is no way we can make progress in ending AIDS if these populations with high HIV prevalence are left behind. Doing so we will be defeating the purpose of achieving, Mr. Right said.

Atty. Bowoulo Taylor Kelley, Director for Legislative Assistance, Treaty Matters and Laws at the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) said, the IBBSS report is important because it would help inform decision makers, partners and stakeholders in advancing the promotion and protection of rights for everyone void of any form of discrimination.

“The right to health is a fundamental human right that is indispensable to the exercise of other human rights; it is primarily the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Frankly, a health people make a healthy nation,” Atty. Kelley said.

She said the Independent National Commission on Human Rights is committed to collaborating with civil society organizations in Liberia to advance the cause for the promotion and protection of the health rights of vulnerable and key populations, by ensuring that no segment of the society is left out in the enjoyment of their rights.

Atty. Kelley said, “This is why in the not too distance future, the human rights Commission will begin a process to engage relevant stakeholders and national government through the appropriate branch to ensure compliance to the international human rights standard, by either amending or repealing those discriminatory laws that adversely affect the enjoyment of the health rights of key and vulnerable populations.”

Mr. Kutaka Devine Togba, Director for the Department of Human Rights Protection at the Ministry of Justice said the Liberian government remains committed to protecting the lives of all citizens and residents through the rights to health.

“I hope that the outcome of IBBSS report will go a long way in the country’s HIV response,” Mr. Togba said.

He said the Ministry of justice will continue to advance discussions with civil society organizations and key human rights players to keep pushing for an enabling environment for the protection of human rights void of discrimination.

The 2021 Spectrum estimates of the joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS show that 35,000 persons are currently living with HIV in Liberia, with women accounting for 20,000, men 12,000 and 3,000 for children (0-14 years).

Among these persons living with HIV, key and vulnerable populations are disproportionally exposed and account for the highest infection rate.

                                Stakeholders at the launch of the IBBSS report

 

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